The winner of last year’s Rab Mountain People Commissioning Film Grant went to Seasons Lost, directed by Paul Ingram and produced and written by Lucy Jordan. The production is now underway and the film will drop thru-hiker Paul into the mountain culture of Scotland to walk the East Highland Way, looking to its past, present and future.
We caught up with Paul to talk about everything from environmental filmmaking and what it means to create a documentary in an era of short-form videos.
Q: Congratulations on winning ‘The Mountain People Film Commissioning Grant’ in partnership with Kendal Mountain and Rab in 2022 - we can’t wait to screen your film at our Festival this November! Can you tell us a bit about the film?
Thanks! We are super excited to have received the grant and can’t wait to show off all our hard work later this year. Seasons Lost will see me dropped into the mountain culture of Scotland, to hike the same region in different seasons, pulling along as many veterans, novices, scientists, artists, locals and friends as I can. Through interviews, time spent together and a growing familiarity with the region, Seasons Lost will hopefully capture how it was, how it stands and how it will be. We have a plan for this documentary, but honestly we’re not sure what the final message will be…hopefully we’ll find that on the trail.
Q: You call your film a “poetic adventure documentary”. How did you foray into filmmaking, especially as a means of exploring landscapes?
My personal journey with filmmaking started with a love of film in general. At age four, sitting too close to the TV and watching Star Wars: A New Hope on VHS surrounded by action figures. The sense of adventure and exploration that the world of Star Wars gave me at a young age led to me wanting to see new things and connect with nature later in life. I headed overseas to see the world as an adult and eventually, hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2015 and the Continental Divide Trail in 2017. It was pretty simple at the start - I had a camera and was capturing those experiences, but that slowly built to making things like my first feature-length hiking documentary in 2019 and then Seasons Lost now in 2023.
Q: You are hiking Scotland’s East Highland Way and exploring the changing landscapes through the lens of climate change. Was there any specific instance that inspired you to create a film about an environment affected by climate change?
It’s hard to spend a life outside adventuring without taking the changes these places face from climate change into consideration. It’s also challenging to fully enjoy the experiences knowing that some impact will be had in the process. When we saw the brief, Lucy and I just felt like we had distinct childhood memories of seasonal weather in the UK and that actually had a lot of weight to it; lots of milestones, moments, memories etc. are punctuated by the seasons, but with climate change, that could quickly change. So, we brought that into what we wanted to make for Kendal and Rab.
Q: You are currently in the process of completing your film and have already hiked the East Highland Way in February. What were some of the hurdles you had to overcome during the winter season, and what challenges do you anticipate for the summer period of filming?
The intention with the film was to come into the experience with as little bias as possible. However, on the first hike in February, we were prepared for full winter conditions. Snow on the ground and subzero conditions, but that wasn’t the case and plays into the theme of losing the seasons and the seasons not being as easily differentiated. The lack of usable daylight at that time of year made filming more challenging and we definitely had a few days of being wet and cold.
For the summer trip, we’re excited to see the differences. We’ve been warned of the infamous Scottish Midges so we'll have our bug nets ready. But as someone who likes to get out and enjoy ‘wild’ experiences I think the fact that there will be more people out on the trails will be the biggest difference from the winter trip as we saw very little foot traffic on the East Highland Way.
Q: You are connecting with fellow crusaders on your journey. Who has been the most influential and inspiring person you have met so far?
We’ve had the opportunity to connect with some amazing people so far with varied areas of expertise. Keri Wallace from the Girls on Hills team gave us some excellent insights from someone who is in the hills on a daily basis. The insights and logistical support that ranger Pete Short from the Cairngorms National Park Authority has also been invaluable. These are people who are so knowledgeable in their field and it's been fascinating both interviewing them formally, but also hanging out with them in their element and seeing them enthuse about the area, the nature, the trail…
Q: In an age when short-form videos are taking centre stage, how do you see documentary filmmaking and storytelling evolving?
It’s difficult to talk on such a complex subject but my gut feeling is that there is a space for everyone and every type of content. Blog articles haven’t made books irrelevant and short-form video doesn’t make documentary films - short or long - irrelevant. I believe documentary films will continue to dig deeper into topics and encourage audiences to be curious. If you actually look at the current trends, audiences are over-saturated with short-form content from the likes of TikTok, so we’re likely to see movement towards long-form content again!
Q: Any tips for budding filmmakers?
Get interested in things. Ask questions even if you have no idea how you’d answer them yourself. Network. Be bold but humble and kind. Practice, practice, practice and be ready for an opportunity when it presents itself. I asked Lucy what she’d say here and her advice was to build a network, as no great film was ever made in a vacuum - it takes a village to make a movie.
Q: What are the three pieces of kit you couldn’t live without on the East Highland Way?
1. A bomber rain jacket! We had rain and decently cold temperatures on the February hike and that’s a bad combination when you’re out in the hills for 6 days straight.
2. A reliable water filter. I’ve gotten sick from drinking less than clean water on an adventure and it can really take you out of commission.
3. Good footwear. Taking care of your feet is priority number one. For the winter hike, we used lightweight Gore-Tex boots and for the summer we’ll be using non-waterproof trail running shoes to allow our feet to breathe.
Q: Can you tell us one word that sums up your relationship with the outdoors?